tv The Stream Al Jazeera January 10, 2014 12:30pm-1:01pm EST
and check us out at aljazeera.com where the news continues 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. ♪ hi, i'm lisa fletcher, and you are in "the stream." no question olympic hopefuls endure years of gruelling training, but behind the scenes many say they are suffering abuse at the hands of their coaches. olympics. ♪ omar is in tonight as digital producer. we'll be bringing in all of your live questions and comments throughout the show. i think there is a tendency and to look at the olympic environment and think it is very
structured disciplined and very safe, and there are a number of athletes saying it is not. >> absolutely. here on my screen jonathan says . . . of course for those of you at home we want to be part of the conversation to be sure to tweet in using the hashtag you see on your screen now. >> some athletes say physical, psychological and sexual abuse are part of the equation.
elite athletes are coming forward with allegations. just a little over a year ago 19 speed skaters, including five olympic medalists filed complaints. a few national gof earning bodies have stepped up to declare zero tolerance for such behavior, but some adz woe indicates question whether inconsistent guidelines are enough? they say the winning at all costs mentality has taken over, making athletes less likely to report abuse. joining us is katherine star, two-time olympian and current president of safe for athletes. in chicago, john little an attorney who handles many sexual abuse cases for olympic athletes. and mitch abrams a sports
psychologist who has worked extensively with athletes who face these abuses. welcome even to "the stream." katherine coaches push athletes to try harder. that's their job. they yell, and put you through growling workouts. but at whatting point does hard abusive? >> one of the things about being an elite athlete is you excel on your own. and you have an balanced relationship between your coach and yourself, and if you are in a dynamic where the coach is saying they made you, then you have really lost both your -- the equality in that relationship. and then you create a dynamic that is extremely dysfunctional, and moves into that extremely abuse environment. >> talk about what that environment was like for you.
>> well, i mean for me the abuse was psychologically abusive, mentally abusive, and i had to deal with -- my -- my family -- my father was an amazing man, and how he supported me as a swimmer was absolutely amazing, and to go to him with my -- you know, like you are supposed to go to your papers, you know, with your pain and your hurt to help you through that, and, you know, to sort of have, you know, their way of help you, you know, sort of like don't quit -- i have a letter i found from 30 years ago from my father that specifically says i'm sorry for your sadness, but you really need to like learn to get along, and he meant well, but there wasn't a vehicle and a way to express any of that hurt or psychological abuse, so you sort of stayed with it, and your peers, your, you know, 14,
15-year-old teammates are the ones who help you through your struggles, because you are in the same place. katherine. >> oh, no. it's all. >> john you are an attorney and deal with lot of these elite athletes. katherine made a good point. we are really talking about kids here a lot of times. 13 to 17 year olds. give me a sense of some of the more egregious abuse allegations that your clients have brought to you? >> well, first of all katherine said it the best -- the coach -- his ego, he shouldn't be saying things like i made you. i'm responsible for your success. the athlete is responsible for their success, and the parents dna is a contributor to their success. i have seen instances where
coaches have locked athletes in their hotel rooms because they did not perform well, and jarred the door so the athlete couldn't get out. i have seen coaches abuse athletes at the olympic training center, an environment that you would think would be safe. i have seen all kinds of things -- throwing things at kids, hitting kids, what you saw in the speed skating incidents from last year, where the coaches were actually assaulting athletes. but the sad part is when you look at what .hahhed with speed skating, the national governing body failed to act, and we have from olympians down to little kids participating in the sport right now, there's no responsibility. coaches have no one to answer to. they can do what they -- what they will, and as long as they are successful on the playing field, there will be no scrutiny to their methods. >> i want to get to that accountability and failure to
act in just a second, but mitch do these abuses generally concentrate among a particular age or gender? >> i think considering the developmental age of the younger athletes that are involved, olympic athletes have a wide range of ages and developmental stages that they are going through, and i think it would be a mistake to assume that a governing body is going to be able to enforce the rules the way they need to be done, and accountability has to fall on all participants. certainly the governing bodies matter, but parents have to be more involved in not just handing over their children to coaches and assuming everything is going to be copacetic. >> i agree that parents do have responsibility, but the problem we have currently in u.s. olympic sports which for the
record would be 42 sports from soccer to football to, you know, field hockey, any number of sports. what we have is a system where abuses and allegations are not documented or if they are documented they are kept from parents and clubs at the lower level, so the people don't know the new coach in town has a history from new jersey or indianapolis. those lists that are kept prevent parents from having all of the knowledge they need to make informed digs. >> lisa -- we have a comment from our community where this line is drawn between encouraging coaching and where that line crosses into abuse. and we have some interesting reaction to that . . .
katherine, given the fact that there is a subjective angle to a emotional abuse, do you think that makes it difficult to set specific standards about what kind of behavior coaches can engage in and what they cannot? >> i really think you have got to allow athletes to have a voice. and i'm an advocate for -- if -- if it feels wrong it is wrong, and an athlete has got to be able to say that it's not -- i'm not okay with this. and there's just no room for that if we have such a system especially in gymnastics where the next athlete is going to step in line. and -- and i feel like one of the -- so that's where the -- like you continue to abuse yourself because you are really not going to be accommodated, so wily in this fear and intestimony a decision environment where we need to
start changing that to inspiration and empowerment, and allow our athletes to be vocal about how they can succeed within who they are. allow them to share that part of their experience, and, you know, i just find there's way too much power, and because they are minors they are negated and not considered as -- as having any value to the conversation, yet these are children who have excelled beyond belief, and even just being in sports in general, just participation, we want to teach our young athletes how to communicate in a way that is helpful for them to improve in all aspects. >> katherine it's very disturbing and not uncommon for psychological abuse to lead to sexual abuse. we'll talk about that when we come back. keep tweeting us we'll get to
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underaged clients performing oral sex on international trips, including the olympic games. athletes that are raped at ty cannedo tournaments, at the olympic training center. in speed skating i had athletes abused by known predators, and usa swimming, several coaches that have abused athletes in united states and across the globe. a lot of those are still banded. >> i want to introduce nancy, a former olympic medallist in swimming and a director of advocacy at the women's sports association. can you think of any one thing that john just brought up and you think they'd be making global headlines, yet we don't hear about the stories. why not? >> a couple of reasons. when something like this happens
at a school, for example penn state, there's legal liability, what john was talking about earlier. it is accountability. they are being overseen, it costs the school about $120 million. what happens in a club setting or in an olympic sports setting there's no similar civil rights cause of action. someone like john, no way they'll be reimbursed. there's no incentive for people to develop an expertise. if it happens at a school, there's coverage. all the leaders have to take care. the insurance companies come in and put requirements on what has to happen to make safe. there's no legal accountability with the legal movement. i have to disagree with mitch. it's unrealistic to expect the court to do something about it.
as soon as the sport does something by having a strong code of ethics, when they find someone that violates it, that they go and do something about it. it doesn't take many coaches to get banned before other coaches realise that there are limits to what they can do to make an athlete succeed. it's interesting what katherine was saying. it doesn't make someone more successful to abuse them. demeaning. >> what is it about the path of these aperformance athletes that needs into this type of abuse. >> if the culture is win at all costs you'll have the problems pop up. i've felt that competition is overplayed and demanded at levels when athletes might be physically but not psychologically mature enough to
do this. psychologists wonder whether competitions should get that strict. until a kid goes to middle school where they have greater mental capacity, of course olympic sports don't havthe requirements, so they'll see all kinds of athletes struggling greatly. the other thing i will say is that when i said earlier to have governing bodies being a party, it's the only example of what is happening in sport. in is ubiquitous. it's happening in sport all over the place. if we want to change what is happening to the athletes, we have to change the culture. >> but the culture, the problem with the culture in olympic sports is this is so engrained. these abuses have gone on through the '60s, before the usoc. they have gone on so long that
the young male athletes see how their 30 and 40-year-old coaches act towards their peers to when they become coaches. they grew up in an environment where there's no repercussions. when you have the environment, it trickles down to all levels of usa swimming and us olympic sport. we have to keep in mind here that when we talk about the olympics movement, we are talking about the swim clubs. all over the country, where kids are swimming and groomed by sexual predators. >> we have community waging in saying:
>> we are not just talking about sexual overtures, but egrajous forms of abuse. >> a lot of governing bodies seem to be insular and handle the issues internally, acting as judge and jury. they do things like remove member status from the coaches. how can they do this and then not have to report these things to law enforcement. >> well, they are not mandatory reporters under the law, but i want to take a step back and talk about sexual abuse in a broader sense. when you look at what sexual abuse is, it's an abuse of power. it is - as an attorney, i cannot have a romantic or sexual
relationship with a client. physician or clergy member, counsel members. there are rules that the sports governing bodies are reluctant to adopt. it took the united states olympic committee to tell the national governing body that they had to change a code of conduct. if an 18-year-old can do it, the 16-year-old wants to do it. if we want to clean it up, we have to figure out a way of getting molesting coaches that are abusing athletes, the same way military and schools are going through this, in a lot of other areas. it is calling out for what it is, and getting abusers out of the system. >> i want to get back to you in a second about the idea of governing bodies operating outside of the law. katherine, i want to bring you in here. talk a little bit about the
power dynamic that nancy was referencing. did you experience anything like that, where it was so clear that that was something they wanted to keep in play. >> in my particular case, my coach was the head olympic coach, and so, you know, he was the selector of the team. for me, i had to - if i wasn't doing as he wanted me to go, by i was saying no after he had raped me, and continuing to say no, i wasn't selected for the world championships or the commonwealth games or the european championships, and it was punishment. the only reason i went to the european championships in "83 was because a reporter was going to do something about it. the irony of that trip was i met the pope, you know, in 1983, and
the only reason i was standing in his presence was to hide or suppress my own abuse. that was back in 1983. there was - you know, in the management and the leadership in both - anywhere, the leadership of the united states olympic committee has not lived up to the olympianism of what it is supposed to do. they really failed. they failed their athletes. they - know, they failed the system. unless we have a mandatory policy in place, and an enforcement mechanism not just for the 3.2 million athletes that are listed, but the 60 million athletes at risk, then these things will continue to advance. it's not just me, there'll be millions of mes. you know, and there's too many, you mentioned earlier about why doan we share the stories. there's too many of them. these are not isolated
incidents. when it becomes too many, it's normalized. it's sort of been accepted as the cost of doing business. and there is no reason for it to be there. none whatsoever. and, you know, we need to step in and we need to change for a new generation to help them have a voice, be the athletes that they can aspire to be without this in their way. >> we'll have to hit a break. quickly, i want to get back on this idea of how the governing bodies act independently and keep the information internal. >> coaches that know each other are elite coaches, it's difficult to go after them. my olympic coach mitch ivy was banned for life. they had the information for the last 25 years on how it was that he was having relationships with underaged girls on the team. they wouldn't do anything about it. >> it wasn't until
congress got involved. praise to george miller for putting a spotlight on the issue and making them accountable and having them clean up their act. my organization is working with the committee to create a separate entity that will investigate and sanction those coaches. fingers' crossed we hope to get the independence we need in one. >> how can coaches and governing bodies be held accountable without jeopardizing what these athletes spent their lives trying to achieve.
welcome back. we have been talking about the alarming number of allegations of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse of olympic hopefuls at the hands of their coaches. john, we have been talking about lack of accountability. i'm curious how have institutions responded to your legal actions? >> the institutions have
responded by denial, blaming the victims, by enriching their own pockets in terms of legal fees and a corrupt insurance system. if usa swimming and the olympic committee is serious about taking a step in the right direction, the usa swimming has kept a list of child molesters, and i have never seen that list. i think they should disclose the known child molesters in their midst and do something about them. but until congress intervenes, nothing will happen. >> i think that's mind numbing. it seems like such a no-brainer. >> you would think so, but as nancy said this is a world where these guys are traveling around the world together, nobody wants to lose their seat at the world's greatest country club which is what the olympic movement is, and until you have
congress come in and say you have to clean this up -- we're talking about molest children. if you have molested kids -- for example the former president of the united states speed skating molested two kids, admitted it to, in may we tried to get a resolution passed and if you have been convicted of child molestation or confessed to it, you should no long be a member of usspeed skating, and we were unsuccessful. >> unbeliefable. >> we have some community input . . . katherine, i know that your organizationhas an app out there that helps people report anonymous
anonymously. how important is this? >> oh, it's huge. we have a comprehensive policy and program, and our structure is what is key. so our app on top of it speaks to the millennium generation who -- you know, they walk around with smartphones, so we made it anonymous, and we have resources right there. we have the education behavior right there for the athletes to have access to, and, you know, we're -- we're speaking to the generation, and in technology the way -- with our partner, and so we speak in their language in a way for them to communicate. >> and athletes can go to your website for more information. that is all the time we have tonight. thanks to all of our guests. we'll see you ne next time. ♪
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